Opinion & Analysis

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Holt's Election Reform Ideas

January 26, 2015 5:33 pm - By: Richard V. Engle

Senator David Holt (R-OKC) has introduced a number of Election reform measures for the upcoming session.

My response to each of the bills is as follows:

"Senator Holt,

As stated on the phone, I don't know that a low voter turnout is necessarily a bad thing.  Voters who do not vote may be ill informed, apathetic, or satisfied with all potential choices.  I know of no reason to encourage those persons to vote at all. 

However, if voters are displeased with all potential choices then they are effectively disenfranchised if the choice they want is prohibited from any ballot.  You do have one measure that addresses that matter.  If a significant minority feel helpless to voice their opinion then we may well have the very scenario you voiced to me on the phone.  You are right to be concerned about that as we do have historic evidence that a vocal yet disenfranchised minority have disrupted the very fabric of a society.  If allowed to present their candidates to the electorate and the franchise is universal then any such disruption is halted.

After fully reading each of the bills, I below discuss my opposition, support, conditional support or specific suggestions on each of the bills in question.  I tried to be brief and would likely have any number of additional thoughts but below are my primary concerns.

SB 310 - I have to strongly oppose this concept on philosophical and pragmatic reasons.  I do not believe there is any adaptation or amendment to this bill that would make it acceptable.

SB 311 - This bill removes the right of party organizations to nominate a candidate for office.  A person should not be able to be the effective nominee of a party just on the basis of their choice of voter affiliation.  While I greatly appreciate the effort to shorten and simplify the election process, I cannot support this effort. 

However, if you were to create a provision by which a political party could nominate by other means and a certainty that such nominees would be on a general election ballot then I would not have the stringent objections.  As we spoke the Utah system, or a version thereof, is a good one.  The parties may only submit up to 2 candidates for a primary.  The Utah GOP uses a convention system to reduce their nominees to only 2 candidates (or in some cases only 1 if the convention system had an overwhelming percentage for a single candidate) and this prevent any need for a runoff ballot thus creating the simplified process you are seeking.

SB 312 -  I wholeheartedly support the premise of this bill.  I don't agree with the exception for large cities, but I can live with that.  There are some minor tweaks that I could recommend but I don't fell they are critical.  It may be that your colleagues will find those concerns anyway.

SB 313 -  I have a number of questions about this bill.  1) Are Drivers licenses a public record now?  If not is there a concern about the sharing of such records with county election boards? 2) Does this diminish the franchise for persons without the required forms of ID?  Could you not also include a US Passport?  3) How does this effect the effective date of registration for Party purposes?  Currently a person is registered with their party of choice when the election board receives the registration application and not upon completed processing by the Election board.  This means that if I register as a Republican 1 day prior to the GOP Pct. meetings then I am a Republican eligible to participate in said meetings - although I may have difficulty giving evidence of my registration and thus might be excluded in error.  Does your system have any confirmation of receipt send to the new registrant showing their name, address, birth date and party (if any) so that they can print that and use it to establish their right to participate in the party elections.  Clearly, I would prefer that this be included.  4) I know of a number of people who are very concerned about the types of digital info included in most forms of ID.  These person hold closely to their religious objections.  Are there provisions to prevent any diminishing of their current ability to register to vote?  The concern would be that if "anyone" can go online and register that the option to go to a tag agency would go away, or that tag agencies would switch away from a paper registration form.  It would be best if all current registration methods be retained and all this does is add.  Your goal of increased participation could end with simply different participation if we don't retain all current registration means. 5) What would prevent someone from getting my info from the election board and then using it to register me as a Democrat thus preventing me from voting in the Republican primary, participating in GOP party activities or running for office myself?  How would you secure that the person doing the registration is the person they say they are without a signature.  Currently, if someone submits a false registration on behalf of another person the person can deny it is theirs and as evidence show that the signatures don't match.  Until all these are addressed I could not possibly support the bill.

SB 314 - I would suggest that an integral part of the election system is the opportunity for candidates and/or advocates of candidates or other ballot items is to directly contact and work to persuade the voter on the issue of import.  Such contact by mail or in person is (of course) dependent on the voter's wish to be contacted as they can simply toss the mail or close the front door.  However, it is important that candidates and campaigners have access to a clear list of who is eligible to vote prior to the election by some reasonable amount of time.  Same day registration and voting is not a reasonable time period. 

SB 315 - Permanent is a very long time.  The cost to the taxpayers for sending ballots to addresses for the rest of a person's life is significant.  As a former member of a county election board I know that voters often request the ballots for a year when they really only want them for 1 or 2 elections.  We then found a serious drop off of ballots returned as soon as a minor election happened and then a 2nd drop off at the one following.  The overwhelming majority of year long requests results in no ballot returned for most elections that year.  To fail to have a renewal of request requirement will increase cost and minimally increase participation and such participation is not likely to be based on any form of informed vote. 

If you want a provision by which the Election Board sends the voter a form that allows them to continue for another year, I could support that.  In fact, if the renewal request application accompanies the final ballot packet of the year then the cost of such would be very low.  The voter could return it with or without that final ballot.  A simple letter telling the voter that the enclosed is the final election for which they are currently signed up for absentee ballots and if they wish to secure that they not miss any elections and wish to continue to get absentee ballots for the following year they can simply fill it out and send it back to the election board along with or separate from the enclosed ballot.

SB 316 - Most of the provisions of this bill are good.  I have a concern about the alternate to notarizing.  If I were a Senator I would work to amend to remove that portion and then likely vote for the rest of the bill.  I prefer the notary provision. However, if you added to the copy of the ID a provision that the voter signature be witnessed by 2 unrelated persons not living in the same residence and not a government employee or a candidate then I might withdraw such objections.

SB 317 -  Line 23 bothers me.  Why only do this for election in which there are candidates?  What if the upcoming election is only bond issues or other issues for which there are no candidates.  Otherwise, I support the bill.

SB 318 -  This is the bill of which I spoke above about the effective disenfranchisement of voters and the danger of that in public policy.

In both your bill and in current legislation there is some uncertainty as to the intent for the state party chair or the national chair in certain portions.  You might look at that.  Overall, I agree that we are not doing the Republican or Democrat parties any favors by having the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country.  In fact, I would suggest that the Republicans have been harmed. 

I do not believe it should be any easier for an independent to get on the ballot than it is for a 3rd party candidate.  As a partisan Republican, I can say that we have had far more difficulty with independent candidates (who don't have the baggage or values of being associated with a party and its ideological interests) than we have with candidates from other parties.  I suggest that the 2 terms of Gov. Henry are directly attributable to an independent candidate who would never have gotten as much support as a member of the Green Party, Libertarian or other 3rd parties.

I would suggest that the threshold of entry for independent candidates be raised and that of a 3rd party lowered to the point that they match.  I would further suggest that such ballot access equity is fair and would be seen as fair to every honest observer.

In the interim, your current measure is a step in the right direction.

SJR 13 - I appreciate the intent however I would argue with the numbers you use.  I am very concerned about the evolution of direct democracy and away from representative republicanism. 

I would suggest that cutting the numbers required is a good thing.  However, your cuts are extreme for legislative matters and less so for constitutional when, perhaps, it should be the opposite or revised at the least.  A constitutional amendment must go before the voters in any case.  A reduction in the number of voters needed to propose such over the heads of  elected officials may be a good thing.  A less significant reduction for matters of legislative impact might be much better.  It can be politically difficult to amend legislation passed "by the people" even though "the people" were only given a simple "up" or "down" option.  The magic of the legislative process is that you can get matters amended prior to the up/down vote.  Representatives, and Senators such as yourself, can dedicate more time to legislative matters than most citizens can.  Direct democracy can lead to anarchy and has in other nations at other times. 

I urge you to buy and read my new novel, The Last American President, and you will find a scenario of the very problem of which I am speaking.  I would relish the opportunity to hear your thoughts.

I thank you for taking the time to consider what I (one relatively insignificant constituent) feel on these matters.

God Bless,
Richard Engle"

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Meet Richard Engle

Richard Engle

Richard Engle is a Past President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies which is the nation's largest and oldest Republican support organization.

Richard was twice elected to his local city council and twice elected to the Oklahoma delegation to the Republican National Convention including serving on the National Rules Committee in 2000 where he successfully placed a minority report on the floor of the convention - the first, and most recent since Ronald Reagan did the same in 1976.

Richard is President of BellWest America. Richard and Denise, his wife of nearly 30 years, live in Oklahoma City. Denise Engle serves as Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the State of Oklahoma. Richard speaks and writes often on matters of public policy.

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